Most people believe in miracles, but we may believe that God does miracles mainly out of compassion. I find in studying the book of Acts that most of the miracles were done for even a larger purpose than God’s compassion. In Acts 2, the awesome coming of the Holy Spirit empowered and emboldened the Apostles to go out into the streets of Jerusalem and preach the Gospel to thousands. As a result the church was born that day, and on day one had over 3,000 souls in Jerusalem. In chapter 3, Peter and John healed a lame man at the Temple, which drew another large crowd, and 5,000 believed. In ch.5, God struck down Ananias and Sapphira, which purged the new church and caused all to have a healthy fear of God. In ch.8, many miracles were done in Samaria so that the multitudes in Samaria were coming to hear the Gospel and many were saved. And what miracle could be compared to Paul being struck down and blinded on the road to Damascus in Acts 9? As a result Christianity’s worst enemy believed in Jesus and became Christ’s most productive spokesman. As a sort of climax to all this divine activity, Acts 9:31 says, “So the church enjoyed peace, being built up, and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it continued to increase.” Paul had been commissioned to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, and Peter got a miraculous message from God in Acts 10-11 to also include the Gentiles in his evangelism. Because of God’s clear intervention, the entire Mediterranean world would be changed for Christ. In Acts 11:21, we read that “the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number believed and turned to the Lord.” They were not successful because they deserved it, or were smarter, or were more ambitious. God blessed them and did miracles according to His will, and for His glory.
Gene Chizik—ALL IN
I just finished reading Coach Gene Chizik’s book, ALL IN, about his experiences as a football coach at Auburn in the 2009 and 2010 season. It is an excellent book, and I say that not because I am an Auburn fan, but because Chizik is such a great example of someone in a leadership position who is successfully living for Christ. The book is every bit as much about his spiritual journey as his success in football. In chapter 11 and 12 Chizik writes about a miracle that occurred in the 2009 season that made even a hard hearted guy like me get emotional. After losing three games in a row, he was struggling to keep his team’s morale up. In the LSU game, one of Auburn’s “student government leaders” was yelling nasty things about what a loser Chizik was. He did not know Mrs. Chizik was seated right in front of him. Remember the joke, “The spouting whale gets the harpoon”? The student leader walked down and apologized to her and asked her to forgive him which she did, but told him clearly that a real leader leads even when times are tough. The next game was against Ole Miss, and it was to be nationally televised at 11:21 in the morning. That student leader asked Mrs. Chizik if he could start an 11:21 campaign to raise awareness of the early kickoff time and arouse fan support. He had buttons, bumper stickers, pamphlets, and other advertising with 1121 on them leading up to a sellout.
Meanwhile, a leadership prayer group that the Chiziks belonged to were praying that God’s presence would be evident to many through the football program. The afternoon before the game, the group prayed at the stadium that God would do a miracle at the stadium in front of the 88,000 fans and the bigger TV audience so that they would know that it was from God. Keep in mind that they were not praying to win a football game, but that God would reveal Himself. On the morning of the game, the coach’s wives got a text message from someone who did not know about the starting time or their prayer. The message was that the person had been reading and thinking about Acts 11:21, “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”
At the end of the first quarter of the 2009 Auburn vs Ole Miss game, Ole Miss ran a routine one yard run up the middle. The Mississippi runner, Rodney Scott carried the ball, and was hit first by the linebacker, then safety Zac Etheridge and the D-end finished him off. As Scott went down, Zac Etheridge flew over him and collided his head awkwardly into the huge D-end, and Zac ended up on top of the runner in the pile. Normally running backs are coached to get up immediately, but for some reason the Ole Miss runner did not move. Also defenders usually pull their guys up, but neither of those things happened. Unbeknownst to everyone, Zac Etheridge had fractured his vertebra and torn his neck ligaments, and he was paralyzed with no feeling in his body. Players waved and called for doctors, as everyone realized something terrible was wrong. The team physician examined Zac, and then told Coach Chizik that he feared Zac was permanently paralyzed. The crowd was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Meanwhile, all the players huddled on the sideline and on the field in prayer. The camera panned to thousands of fans who were praying in their seats. I was actually watching the game at home on TV, and I thought it was weird because there were two guys laying there perfectly still and not moving for like twenty minutes. One guy couldn’t move, and the other guy wouldn’t move. Later, they asked Rodney Scott why he never moved. He said initially something inside just told him to be still, and then later the doctors told him not to move until they stabilized Zac Etheridge. Ninety nine times out of a hundred a running back will push the defender off him to get up, but not this time. Doctors told Scott later that he probably saved Zac’s life. Dr. Goodlett said it was a miracle that Zac wasn’t moved in those critical moments.
Zac Etheridge was finally stabilized and carried off on a stretcher. There was bleeding around the second cervical vertebra where the spinal cord meets the brain. If he had been moved it would have caused permanent paralysis and could have been fatal. In the locker room, with Zac in the hospital, Coach Chizik said very little about the game. He told the players that it was a time to reflect on the bigger things in life, and said, “You never know if you’re going to have your next play…You never know if you’re going to have your next day. You never know if you’re going to have your next breath.” The next day the Auburn Coach Chizik called the Ole Miss running back, Rodney Scott. After thanking him for his actions, he asked him why he didn’t move. Scott said, “Coach, I can’t tell you. It had to be God. Something in my spirit said to lie still.” The story had a huge following locally, and became a headline nationally. They got hundreds of emails saying their prayer group, Sunday Schools, and even whole churches were praying for Zac. It is easy to draw the conclusion that through this tragic event, “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21).
Zac Etheridge was released from the hospital two days later, and surprised the team by walking into a team meeting with a large head and neck brace. You can imagine the celebration. Although doctors said he would recover, they said he would never play football again. If you saw any Auburn games the next year in 2010, then you may know that Zac Etheridge was the starting safety for the national champion Auburn Tigers. Right before the season started, Zac flew to Dallas to see the surgeon who works with the Dallas Cowboys. The doctor studied the MRIs from the accident compared to the MRI at that time. He was astonished at the healing that had taken place. He said they could not have been from the same person. All of Zac’s family, team, and coaches knew where that healing came from.
Antioch, Syria—the Model Church of Acts 11:21
Returning to our Acts 11 passage, the hand of the Lord was with the church at Antioch, and so a large number of people there believed and turned to the Lord on or about 44-46 AD. Initially the church at Jerusalem had been the main church that God was using, but about ten years later the core of Christianity and the work of God was moving to Antioch. When Barnabas first went there to check it out in Acts 11:22, he rejoiced greatly at the activity there, “and considerable numbers were brought to the Lord”. The demand for teachers was so great that Barnabas recruited Paul to come to Antioch to help. Paul and Barnabas remained there for over a year working hard in the ministry, and bearing much fruit. Antioch became what we might call the “model church”.
We have already read that “the hand of the Lord was with them”, but what else made them such a model church? First of all it was considered quite a wonder that people of every race and diverse culture could come together as one strictly because they had the same Savior, Lord, and Spirit. Secondly, in Acts 11:26, 13:1, and 15:35 we read that “Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch teaching and preaching with many others also teaching the Word of God.” Teaching the Word was a priority in Antioch. In Acts 11:29, we see that there was very liberal sacrificial giving. Next in Acts 12:24, we see that many people were attracted to the church because lives were changing and people were finding meaning and purpose, and it “continued to grow and multiply”. In Acts 13:2-3, we see their fervent worship of the Lord, and how they desired to send out missionary teams for evangelism. Then in Acts 14:26-28, we see that the church held its people accountable, as well as encouraging them and rejoicing over their ministry activities for the Lord. The text is clear, in passages like Acts 13:4 and 14:27, that they believed that they were being sent out by the Holy Spirit to do the work that God was doing through them for His glory. Lets start our 1121 campaign in our church!